There are many ways to get a master’s degree in counseling, but people will have to first decide what type of degree they want. There are counseling degrees focused on becoming academic counselors in K-12 settings, Christian counseling degrees, and degrees that train people to become licensed professional counselors (LPCs), marriage and family therapists (MFTs) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). With LPCs and MFTs, the degree awarded is a master’s in psychology with focus on professional counseling. The social worker, who can become a counselor or psychotherapist, gets a different degree, which is the Master’s in Social Work (MSW).
Individual schools offering these varying degrees have different requirements. It’s a foregone conclusion that people entering a master’s degree in counseling program will first possess a bachelor’s degree. The required subject matter of undergraduate studies is not always the same. There are MFT and LPC programs that don’t require an undergraduate degree in psychology, and others that only admit students with a psychology B.A. or B.S. MSW programs don’t ordinarily require an undergraduate social work degree. Christian counseling degrees might accept varying undergraduate majors, and school counselors might earn a variety of degrees prior to simultaneously pursuing the master’s and a credential.
The best thing to do is determine the type of programs desired and the type of master’s degree in counseling a student wants to earn, and then investigate individual programs for requirements. It’s a safe bet that most programs will want to see a strong grade point average, usually a 3.0 or higher, good letters of recommendation, excellent writing on any application essays, and enthusiasm for the program. Some schools also conduct interviews prior to making decisions and other schools ask students to take standardized admission exams like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
How a school conducts its master’s degree in counseling program can be varied. Some of these are online, but more of them require school attendance. Many programs have a practicum element where people begin to study their profession and in supervised settings may counsel other people. Social worker programs usually involve one to two years of work in public agencies. All programs will also have required courses students must take and elective courses where students can explore their interests. Many master’s programs also have a thesis requirement, and the thesis must be finished, presented and accepted by a group of faculty members before the student can graduate.
The time it takes to finish a master’s degree in counseling program can vary. Usually it takes students about two to three years to meet all requirements. For many students this is not a direct path to licensure where it is required. LPCs, MFTs, and MSWs must then complete about two additional full-time years of supervised training before getting a license to practice. There are also practicum requirements for school counselors, and Christian counselors may need supervised training too, though this isn’t always the case.